“The METIS team exceeded our high expectations in virtually every aspect of this deal. METIS invested significant time early in our engagement getting to know us personally, understanding our business, and analyzing our finances to better support us. They created comprehensive marketing materials for prospective buyers and accurately and proactively represented us throughout the process. This up-front work proved invaluable as they worked to find us the perfect partner to help us grow our business while retaining our beloved Wits’ End Vineyard. The process wasn’t always easy, but the METIS’ team handled all of it with poise and professionalism. There is no-one more knowledgeable about the Pacific Northwest wine M&A market. We highly recommend Erik and his team to anyone looking to sell their wine business.”
Rollin Soles and Corby Stonebraker-Soles, Owners and founders of ROCO Winery
Founded in 2001 by Rollin Soles and Corby Stonebraker-Soles, ROCO Winery is one of Oregon’s most highly regarded producers of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sparkling Wine. Their 30,000-case production facility and tasting room are located at the foot of the famed Dundee Hills AVA in the heart of the Willamette Valley. ROCO wines have been celebrated by the wine press with over 100 scores between 90 and 95 points, and Rollin Soles, ROCO’s winemaker, has produced wines that have been featured in the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list over a dozen times. A co-founder of Argyle Winery in 1987, Rollin is widely considered one of the best makers of sparkling wines in the world, producing the highest scoring sparkling wine in American history. ROCO wines are distributed in 40 states and exported internationally to Canada, the United Kingdom, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan. ROCO also has a robust direct-to-consumer program, with a loyal wine club. ROCO sources fruit from Rollin and Corby’s personal vineyard, Wits’ End Vineyard, a 32-acre property in the Chehalem Mountains AVA as well as other notable vineyards.
ROCO Winery and Wits’ End Vineyard are the Soles’ twin professional passions. Wits’ End Vineyard fruit is the cornerstone of ROCO’s portfolio and is complemented by other high quality, well farmed vineyard sources. After 40 years in the business, and 20 years building ROCO, Rollin and Corby determined it was time to explore a sale of the winery and brand, while maintaining ownership of Wits’ End Vineyard.
The challenge was to find a buyer who would continue to honor Rollin’s winemaking philosophy AND would enter into a long-term lease agreement to purchase fruit from Wits’ End Vineyard. Additionally, Rollin and Corby also wanted to ensure many of the ROCO team members would remain involved after the transaction.
METIS needed to find a buyer who had the capital, expertise, and strategic resources to build on Rollin’s legacy and propel ROCO forward, while maintaining fruit supply agreements with Wits’ End and other key vineyard partners that were critical to the ROCO legacy.
METIS developed a diverse pool of prospective buyers comprised of both regional, national, and international strategic operators, financial entities, and entrepreneurs who would be interested to continue and build upon the ROCO business platform. Given Rollin’s critical importance to the business and high-profile in the industry, it was well understood that his continued involvement would be required by any conceivable buyer for a considerable period of time. This added the additional requirement that any prospective buyer be a compatible party that Rollin was interested in working with for several years after any transaction.
Given Rollin’s prominent stature in the Oregon wine industry, it was particularly difficult, yet even more important, to maintain complete confidentiality. There were several interested suitors, and the METIS team managed each buyer engagement with complete discretion, often arranging for buyer meetings with Rollin and Corby at various off-site venues to ensure confidentiality was maintained.
METIS spent considerable time with Rollin and Corby early on in their engagement to analyze their business and establish various go-forward financial models, which proved invaluable for buyers to see the immense growth potential of ROCO.
Ultimately, there were multiple offers to acquire ROCO. The prevailing buyer was an international strategic, who knew of the incredible potential of the Willamette Valley and Rollin’s reputation as a leader in American wine production.
The METIS team had spent considerable time with the leadership of Santa Margherita and the Marzotto family (who own Santa Margherita) cultivating their interest to make their first winery acquisition outside of Europe in the Pacific Northwest. Having gotten to know their objectives both for a strong DTC presence as well as national brand potential, and their need for a strong leadership team to already be in place, METIS discretely presented ROCO as one of a small number of opportunities who checked all their boxes. It was clear from the first meeting that there was a fit that went beyond strategy. Rollin and Corby immediately felt a rapport with both Santa Margherita’s executive leadership and the Marzotto family members.
METIS handled all of the arrangements of multiple visits which resulted in SMUSA presenting ROCO with an indication of interest (“IOI”) to acquire the company. Using the IOI as a roadmap, METIS worked with the buyer and seller to negotiate a Letter of Intent that appropriately valued ROCO’s past and future potential. Throughout the extensive diligence process, METIS’ team worked directly with Santa Margherita’s financial consultants, accounting team, tax advisors, and legal counsel to recast the financials and establish robust pro-formas that helped Santa Margherita find confidence in the historical performance and see the significant future potential of ROCO, as well as how it would fit into their European wine portfolio.
METIS negotiated all aspects of the transaction and worked closely with the attorneys on both sides, ensuring a smooth and collaborative transaction that closed on schedule, prior to the end of the 2021 calendar year.
While Rollin and Corby originally wanted an outright sale, they were excited that the Marzotto family invited them to remain as minority partners. The business was appropriately valued, with Rollin and Corby’s retained interest being “icing on the cake”. Corby plans to remain involved in the daily operations of the business through the medium-term, while Rollin plans to remain involved in overseeing winemaking for the foreseeable future. Both are thrilled with the outcome and are excited to be partners with one of Europe’s most successful wine families. After several French wine companies invested in Oregon, Rollin and Corby are particularly proud to be bringing the first major Italian wine company to invest in the Oregon wine industry. The new partnership will allow them the ability to continue making wines that are a true expression of both place and style, while enjoying the immense distribution network and strategic know-how of Santa Margherita. Santa Margherita USA’s CEO Vincent Chiaramonte commented, "ROCO is one of the most awarded and respected wineries in Oregon. After meeting Rollin and Corby, we knew it was the next step in continuing to build on that vision. The Soles share our mutual values, and ROCO Winery will be a welcomed addition to our portfolio." Moreover, all ROCO team members will be retained, and Santa Margherita has established a long-term lease with Wits’ End Vineyard, which remains completely owned by Rollin and Corby.